Some of the strongest moments in last night’s State of the Union speech came when the President returned to a basic theme that helped propel him to the White House in the first place – that we are one nation, and that our shared interests are more important than our differences.
This hopeful, unifying – not to mention constructive and accurate – perspective was most explicitly highlighted towards the end of the speech, in statements like these:
You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America – but a United States of America.
I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.
But it was also implied in very early parts of the speech, where the President set the tone:
Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?
Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?
And it was indirectly brought out in passages like this, where he highlights steps we took in the past, as a nation, for purposes greater than individual interest, and comparable steps we should take now:
During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare. In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.
This sense of shared national purpose – ways in which our choices can make things better for Americans in general, rather than one particular group or another – pervaded the President’s remarks, even when the focus turned to concrete policy goals such as expanded Broadband access:
I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.
President Obama acknowledged that America has often seemed more divided than ever since he took office. But he made a strong and inspiring case that, if we hope for a bright future, we must work past this division and recapture a sense that we are in this together.